U.S. Army Loosens Rules on People With History of Certain Mental Health Issues

People with a history of some types of mental health problems can now seek waivers to join the U.S. Army.

Under an unannounced policy implemented in August, waivers can be sought by people with a history of "self-mutilation," bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse, reveal documents obtained by USA Today.

The Army issued a ban on waivers in 2009 due to high suicide rates among troops. One reason for the recent policy change is that the Army now has access to more medical information about recruits, according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Randy Taylor.

"The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available," Taylor said in a statement to USA Today. "These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories."

The Army is trying to recruit 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018. To reach last year's target of 69,000 recruits, the Army accepted more people who did poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for users of marijuana, and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

"For all waivers, the burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered," one Army memo states, USA Today reported.

According to Taylor, many highly qualified applicants have been disqualified due to incidents that took place when they were young children.

However, accepting recruits with poor qualifications can lead to trouble. For example, in 2006 an Iraqi girl was raped and her family killed by U.S. soldiers. One of those soldiers joined the Army after receiving waivers for minor criminal activity and poor educational background, USA Today reported.

"With the additional data available, Army officials can now consider applicants as a whole person, allowing a series of Army leaders and medical professionals to review the case fully to assess the applicant's physical limitations or medical conditions and their possible impact upon the applicant's ability to complete training and finish an Army career," Taylor said. "These waivers are not considered lightly."

The Army did not provide information about how many waivers, if any, have been issued since the policy change, USA Today reported.

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